Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Anatomy of a Love Letter

"There are no male or female love letters; only good or bad love letters." -Michelle Lovric

A great love letter has the power to make your reader feel special, loved, appreciated, admired, and adored with every reading. Written words won't get worn even if the paper does, and give even when you're not there. That’s why - naturally - I’m having a horrible case of writers’ block with my boyfriend’s Valentine’s Day letter. I intended to start now, so I’ll have time to edit and rewrite. Here, I’ll reverse engineer the Love Letter as a writing exercise to get some ideas, and hopefully, you, my lovely readers will benefit as I flounder. (That’s becoming a kind of theme of this blog, isn’t it? Check out the survey in the sidebar.)

The principles are the same whether you write to your lover, your mother, or your best friend:
1. The main idea, which is love, sure enough to commit to paper.
2. Specific supporting details: the body of the letter is composed of the whys, wheres, hows, whats, whoses, and whens of love.
3. The closing, not a summary, but a conclusion and a nod to the occasion for writing.

Main idea: Narrow the focus, and save some for future letters.
Some ideas: Make it a thank you letter, and show appreciation for those things your reader does that tell you you're loved. OR Catalog how your life has changed since this person came into your life. Go grade school essay, and pick the top three things you admire most about this person and then go into detail how you came to learn these things about that person. It’s an effective outline; that’s why they taught it to you in grade school.

Ex. 1: My Beloved, How fearless are you to dive into love head first. When you first started saying “I love you” on a daily basis, I didn’t dare let myself believe you, but now, I know you say it often, because to you, it is a fact, so true that it would be ridiculous ignore it, like not taking an umbrella on a rainy day.

Ex. 2: Dearest, Thank you for your morning cheer. Every morning, when the sun goes up, I feel the mouth of Hell is opening to swallow me alive. I hate the world when my alarm goes off, and I want to battle my way back to sleep. But these days, I slowly open my eyes, just in case you’re already awake waiting for me.

Ex. 3: Love, you are a trinity: moral ambition, masculinity, and loyalty.

Ex. 4: "Oh My William! it is not in my power to tell thee how I have been affected by this dearest of all letters - it was so unexpected - so new a thing to see the breathing of thy inmost heart upon paper that I was quite overpowered…”-Written by Mary Wordsworth to her husband William Wordsworth.William, both English poets. August 1, 1810

The body: Cliché, not romance, is cheesy. Avoid cheesiness by editing out generalities and abstractions. Choose specific details that support your main idea! If it sounds like a Hallmark card that could have been bought for anybody, well, it will sound very suspicious. You can test a sentence by pretending you wrote it to someone else, maybe an ex instead of your current lover or a friend instead of your mother. If it works for another person, the sentence should be improved with personalized details. Ideas: Tell stories that your reader may not know, such as something that person did when you allegedly weren’t looking or how your love actually grew during a recent argument. Describe an event you are looking forward to in the future, such as a trip together or an accomplishment you know your beloved will reach.

Ex. of a good specific: When you kiss me on the flat plain by the corner of my lip, my whole body smiles. It steels me against the day, and I don’t even need coffee anymore.
Ex of a cliché that’s been overused: The earth moves when we kiss. I love it when we kiss.

Closing: Normal letter stuff.
Ex. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Yours truly/Sincerely/In Earnest/Love/Yours, because you would never try to own me,



  1. Oh come on, I wanted to vote on ex 4!!!
    hehe, j/k, they're all equally wonderful and I'm sure he would appreciate each one of them just as much as the next. As always, very eloquently said my dear.

  2. ivy where's the example with the puns?

  3. L, didn't I say I had writer's block?

  4. I really like love letters. They're a seldom-used tool, and are more powerful for it. It doesn't hurt, too, that I have a way with words.

  5. do you have a boyfriend?



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